June 15, 2016

By John Heisler

It’s been only a handful of weeks since the University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse season ended with a best-in-the-nation seventh straight NCAA Championship quarterfinal appearance. So let’s take a look back at the best and brightest moments of the 2016 campaign (in reverse order):

13. (One Extra for Good Measure) West Coast Spring Break More Than Lacrosse Spring break for the Notre Dame lacrosse squad began in fine fashion with a win over a Maryland team that won its next 16 games. Here are some of the other things the Irish players did that week:
— SUNDAY (March 6): Pacific Coast Shootout clinic for local youth lacrosse players; training and conditioning on Manhattan Beach
— MONDAY: Visit to Camp Pendleton in San Diego
— TUESDAY: Lacrosse alumni networking dinner in Chicago
— WEDNESDAY: Sixteen players worked with students at the Robinson Community Learning Center in South Bend
— THURSDAY: Sixteen other players went to the Robinson Learning Center
— FRIDAY (March 11): Freshmen, sophomores and juniors worked with students at Dickinson Intermediate Fine Arts Academy, seniors volunteered at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center Pediatric Unit, then entire team attended the Notre Dame/Northeastern Hockey East playoff hockey gamewhat i sa

12. Second-Half Comeback Bounces Duke On two different occasions second-rated Notre Dame fell behind eighth-rated Duke by a pair of goals–the last at 5-3 nearly four minutes into the second half at Arlotta Stadium. Then the Irish began a spree that saw them score five of the last six goals in the game. Freshman Ryder Garnsey began with consecutive tallies in less than four minutes to tie the contest. After Deemer Class made it 6-5 for the Blue Devils midway through the final period, Sergio Perkovic scored at 7:22 and 4:45 to give Notre Dame its first lead-and senior Kyle Trolley finished the scoring at :32 for the 8-6 Irish comeback win.

11. Irish Rank #1-For a Long Time Notre Dame had been ranked number one before-dating back to two weeks in 2011, two more in 2013 and then four in 2015 (culminating in the NCAA number one seed). But never did the Irish appear there on such a prolonged basis as in 2016. Two polls (Inside Lacrosse and Lacrosse magazine) began with Notre Dame as their preseason number one team. Lacrosse magazine listed the Irish on top in nine different polls, and Inside Lacrosse did the same in eight of its versions. The USILA poll of coaches twice had Notre Dame number one. One way or another it was a different way of doing business-with the Irish often qualifying as the hunted instead of the hunter. As Notre Dame’s pool of competitive success stories has grown in recent years, this marked a new one to add to the list of accomplishments.

10. Notre Dame Makes NCAA Quarterfinals-Again Think back to 1995. That was Kevin Corrigan’s seventh season as Irish head coach and it marked the first time Notre Dame won a first-round NCAA game (at fifth seed Duke) and advanced to the quarterfinals. It was another five years before the Irish made the quarterfinals again-and a year later Notre Dame made it to NCAA Championship Weekend for the first time in 2001. A decade and a half later the Irish now have the quarterfinal round down pat-with Notre Dame having advanced to at least that bracket of the tournament in seven straight seasons (2010-16). No other team in the country has done that. That accomplishment alone suggests that one of these times the rest of the pieces will fall in place in May.

9. Irish Stifle Maryland It was early in the season, it was the first weekend of spring break at Notre Dame and the Irish had traveled cross-country to meet a Maryland team that had fallen just the weekend before at Yale. But, as it turned out, this 9-4 victory thanks to a late surge by Notre Dame became one of the signature wins of the Irish season. That’s because after this loss, the Terps won 16 games in a row, earned the number-one seed in the NCAA bracket and had a two-goal lead late in the NCAA title game before falling to North Carolina in overtime. The Irish won this one with a flourish by breaking out of a 4-4 tie late in the game with five goals (three by Mikey Wynne) in less than five minutes.

8. Perkovic’s Rocket Shots Imagine being a college goaltender and having a 6-4, 220-pound midfielder come into view with his 110-mile-per-hour (much of the time) shot. That’s the sort of terror-if that’s the appropriate word-that Notre Dame’s Sergio Perkovic struck in the hearts of opposing net-minders. Heaven forbid if Perkovic found a way to get his hands free anywhere near the goal and launch one of his full-speed zingers with no one in his way. The Motor City Hit Man, as ESPN’s Eamon McAnaney dubbed him a year ago, fired 116 shots at the net in 2016, connecting 26 times. What fans had to like is that many of Perkovic’s attempts qualified as prime-time viewing-even if they didn’t find their target. That’s how entertaining the two-time USILA first-team All-American was.

7. The Growth of Ryder Garnsey Freshman attack Ryder Garnsey didn’t come to the Irish roster as an unknown quantity. The New Hampshire product was an Under Armour All-American in his high school days. And Garnsey sent early notice that he would be a factor-even with All-American Matt Kavanagh and Mikey Wynne winning their share of headlines on the offensive end-when he scored a couple of times indoors against Bellarmine and a couple of more times against Maryland. But, at midseason, it all began to fall into place for the talented first-year player. Garnsey exploded for a season-best five goals in the win at Syracuse (two in a 23-second window in the third period and two more within 39 seconds in the fourth period). Twenty-one of his 27 goals came in the final eight Notre Dame games combined-and only Matt Kavanagh finished the season with more assists. Inside Lacrosse after the 2016 season rated Garnsey 10th on its list of top freshmen nationally (Hugh Crance was 12th).

6. Schantz’s 59-Yard Heave at Carolina This looked like the harmless final few seconds of a first period. Top-rated Notre Dame had just taken a 5-3 lead at North Carolina on the fifth goal of the season by senior Kyle Trolley (with an assist from Cole Riccardi) with only five-plus seconds remaining in the opening period. That left John Travisano Jr. to compete for the Irish on the face-off at midfield. The ball kicked out toward the Notre Dame goal-and Irish freshman Drew Schantz grabbed it and fired it perfectly (though rather unlikely) into the Tar Heel net. At least one official initially ruled no goal (the ball must be released before time runs out), and Carolina goaltender Colin Reder reacted somewhat nonchalantly in allowing the ball to get past him, maybe thinking it wouldn’t count. In any event, after some consultation the goal was deemed a good one-and you can still find it on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2zJ5rs9og8).

5.Kavanagh Beats Marquette in OT Little did Irish fans know on a Wednesday in the middle of April what the Marquette lacrosse season would become. The Golden Eagles, ranked 19th and standing 8-1 (identical to the Irish record at the time), went on to surprise top-rated Denver in the BIG EAST title game (played in Denver), earn a number-six seed in the NCAA bracket and play in the NCAA Championship (including meriting a first-round home game) for the first time. On this day, the visitors hung tough in South Bend, rebounding from a 5-2 halftime deficit to hold Notre Dame scoreless in the final period to force overtime. From there Notre Dame’s senior attack took charge. Thirty seconds into the overtime session Matt Kavanagh maneuvered into an open spot and fired in a patented left-handed dart for his fourth goal of the game (his high for the season in that category) to protect the number-one Irish ranking.

4. The Career of Matt Kavanagh A four-year starter at attack, Matt Kavanagh did not finish his career in 2016 as Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer (he ended up second behind Randy Colley). He didn’t lead the Irish on a career basis in either goals or assist (he ended third in both categories). Yet, considering the competition level the past three years (Kavanagh’s freshman season in the BIG EAST, then three years in the ACC), it’s no reach to suggest that Kavanagh qualifies as the most accomplished offensive player to wear a Notre Dame uniform. A cagey competitor who played a variety of roles over his four seasons, the Long Island product proved equally comfortable setting up his teammates or putting up goals himself. Four times he won overtime games for the Irish, none as memorable as the amazing NCAA quarterfinal comeback against Albany in 2014 when Kavanagh applied the finishing (and winning) touch.

3. Perkovic Beats Virginia in OT For the most part, the Notre Dame-Virginia game in South Bend was as even as could be. Yes, the Irish led early 2-0. Yes, the visitors responded with four straight goals to lead 4-2. And, yes, the Cavaliers took fourth-period leads both at 6-5 and then at 7-6 on a goal with 1:24 on the clock. Then Sergio Perkovic took over. His game-tying goal came with only 23 ticks remaining-and his winning score came 29 seconds into overtime in spite of a Virginia defender doing his best to impede Perkovic’s view. He flipped his stick and was promptly mobbed by a glut of fans young and old.

2. Matt Landis is Best in the Nation-Again Notre Dame in recent years has had its share of award-winners. In particular, the defensive end of the field has produced Joey Kemp and John Kemp, each named the top goaltender in the country in 2008 and 2012, respectively. But no Irish player had earned that sort of recognition in consecutive seasons the way Matt Landis did in winning the USILA William C. Schmeisser Award as the top defenseman in Division I lacrosse in both 2015 and 2016. Landis also is a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year. The Irish in recent years have distinguished themselves with their particularly stingy defensive player, yet it may be a while before another Notre Dame defender comes along with the skill, consistency and productivity contributed by Landis.

1. Sixty Minutes of Top-Notch Lacrosse at Syracuse At no time during the 2016 season did Notre Dame do a better job of putting together a full game’s worth of lacrosse at both ends of the field than in winning 17-7 at Syracuse. The Irish had never beaten the Orange in the Carrier Dome (only three previous attempts)-and that night in Syracuse they made it look easy under what appeared to be challenging circumstances. Notre Dame’s appearance at the Dome came on the weekend Syracuse invited back all its former living players to celebrate 100 years of Orange lacrosse. The Irish led 4-1 early, 9-4 at the break (nine goals tied Notre Dame’s season high for a half) and scored the final five goals of the game-with Matt Kavanagh contributing a career-high nine points (six assists). The Irish win ended Syracuse’s 13-game home-field win streak and marked the worst Orange defeat in 29 years. And the win certainly looked even better after Syracuse won the ACC Championship four weekends later.